One of the more disturbing aspects of having a billionaire as governor is that Ricketts and his family can pour unlimited amounts of campaign cash into Nebraska elections in an effort to dominate the legislature. This has stressed the separation of powers and is a threat to democracy. The Ricketts family’s billions have simply made Pete Ricketts too powerful.
In a revelatory (and alarming) Omaha World Herald opinion piece of June 1 by Jack Gould of Common Cause we got an inkling about how much money Joe and Pete Ricketts have sunk into Nebraska political races. According to Gould: “Omaha World-Herald statistics show the governor contributing $1,824,520 between Oct. 31, 2001, and May 2, 2018, to state campaigns while Joe and Marlene Ricketts contributed $1,706,882 between June 10, 1999, and May 2, 2018. During the same 10-year period, the governor has actually contributed more than $328,700 to Nebraska legislative races alone and $51,500 to candidates for the University of Nebraska Board of Regents.”
These vast reservoirs of campaign cash don’t even count the money the Ricketts family have contributed to dark money political action committees. Trees of Liberty, the 10th Amendment Project, Future 45 and Americans for Prosperity have all been major players in Nebraska elections since 2016. These groups specialize in running deceptive attack ads through robo-calls and mailers. They attack Ricketts’ opponents in the legislature from both parties when their campaigns are low on funds and can’t afford to respond to their half truths and deceptive language.
Perhaps Ricketts’ greatest abuse of power was when he funded opponents to three moderate Republicans in the 2016 cycle who had the temerity to stand up to him. At the 2016 Nebraska Republican Convention, Ricketts demanded so-called “platform Republicans” who would consistently support his agenda. The former T.D. Ameritrade executive was able to oust Senators Les Seiler, Jerry Johnson and Al Davis and replace them with his loyalists.
In the same 2016 cycle, Ricketts put $400,000 of his own money into a campaign to reinstate the death penalty after it was repealed by the legislature over his veto in 2015. In addition, Joe Ricketts kicked in another $100,000.00 to reverse Pete’s humiliating 2015 defeat in the Unicameral. The death penalty was reinstated by a 61% to 39% margin.
Ricketts’ massive investment into overturning an act of the legislature raised some serious questions about the separation of powers in Nebraska. Former GOP State Senator Colby Coash summed it up well: “It’s pretty unusual to have a governor who would lose an initiative through the process then try to reverse that process outside of the role of the governor with his own money. Pretty unprecedented.”
Ricketts’ attempt to dominate the senators with his vast wealth has continued on into the current session. On August 4, Senator Steve Lathrop gave a fiery speech on the floor of the unicameral calling for the body to act as an independent check and balance on the executive. Lathrop noted that up to 20 senators wait to receive a text of instructions from the administration before they vote on a bill. Lathrop thundered: “Exercise some judgement. Use your own brain! You’re waiting for a text! Well good job! Yesterday 20 of you peeled off a bill that would prohibit sex between a teacher and a minor student. Well done!”
Rickett’s lavish spending on legislative races and out sized influence in that body has led to an out of touch agenda. In the closing days of the session, the debate is about corporate tax subsidies, property tax cuts and abortion. It’s the same agenda the unicameral had in January and it’s like the corona virus pandemic never happened.
When Ricketts isn’t bullying the legislature, he is threatening to sue Douglas County if it should mandate the wearing of masks to combat the corona virus pandemic. In other words, the billionaire governor will play politics with our health and sue the most populous county in the state if it requires people to take common-sense science-based measures to protect themselves and others during a pandemic. This is a clear intimidation tactic that amounts to an abuse of power and reckless endangerment of the public.
The billionaire governor is a well behaved version of Trump with future presidential aspirations in mind. That’s why Ricketts has been a regular at right wing meetings like the NRA, Red State, the Federalist Society and CPAC.
Heading into this election cycle, the Democrats essentially had to defend 12 out of 25 seats. The Republicans are expecting to gain up to three seats in November. However, the Nebraska Democrats running for the legislature came out of the primary in a strong position to not only hold all of seats targeted by Ricketts but also in a position to even pick up one seat.
I would recommend that you commit your time and/or money to good legislative candidates. We need a check and balance on Ricketts. Elections have consequences. Let’s chase the money changers out of the temple in 2020! Together, we can whip the corona virus and take our country back!